December 6, 2011

Dikembe Motumbo knows how persistence pays off

I wanted to tell you about a really great athlete that I admire.  His name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo.  Most people call him by the first two of his names, Dikembe Mutombo.  He was born in the Congo (formerly known as Zaire) to wealthy parents and expected to get an education.  He excelled in school and enjoyed playing Soccer.  

As he grew taller reaching almost 7 feet tall in high school, his parents urged him to play Basketball.  He tried the sport and in his first practice, landed hard on his chin creating a scar that still shows today.  He hated basketball after this happened!  His parents continued to push him to play basketball, not letting up until he became comfortable in the sport.  Later he would thank them for not letting him quit, for knowing what was best for him.
He joined the Zaire international basketball team after High School.  For two years he played on this team with his brother Ilo and learned the sport better.  When the team toured the United States, he met the coach of Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Georgetown University gave him a scholarship to attend school there.  Dikembe wanted to become a doctor and return to his homeland to help care for his sick countrymen.  
His first year in school was difficult, so difficult that he didn't play basketball at all.  He couldn't speak any English, so his classes were hard.  He focused that first year on learning English.  After that, he began to play for the Georgetown team and the NBA scouts started paying attention to him.  He had grown to 7 feet 2 inches tall by then.  Some were skeptical of his ability to play well, in spite of his height, because by then he was 25 years old.  But Dikembe proved to be a quick learner on the court as well.  Soon he was playing center on the court, blocking shots and making more shots.  He ended up getting his college degree in Linguistics (he now speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and 5 African dialects) and Diplomacy.
He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, and played for them for several years.  He was named the NBA Defensive player of the Year after just a few years of NBA play.  Over his long career, he played for several teams and retired as the oldest player ever!  This is all really remarkable, but it doesn't tell the whole story.  As hard as Dikembe must have worked to be successful in Linguistics, Diplomacy and at basketball, he had to work harder to help the people of his native Congo.
Dikembe was a successful basketball star and now had money to help the people of his homeland.  He had always felt bad that there were so few resources for people suffering from illness in the Congo.  He said, "When people are poor, that doesn't mean they have to receive poor treatment."  He knew that his hometown of Kinshasa had an old poorly equipped hospital.  He decided to build a new high quality hospital there.
In 1997 he announced his plan.  He needed $29 million to build it, and had contributed $3.5 million of his own money towards building it.  He got some donations, but had a hard time raising enough to build it.  He bought a piece of land and finally had enough money in 2001 to break ground.  
That didn't end his problems.  Breaking and clearing the ground allowed refugees from war to come and begin farming the valuable land.  He had to pay them to leave.  Then, because the government saw that the land wasn't being used, they tried to take it back.  Dikembe had to fight to keep the land.  Finally, after donating a total of $15 million of his own money, workers began to build the new hospital in 2004.  It was finished in 2006 and opened to the public in 2007.  It took him ten years to reach his dream of opening a high quality hospital in his hometown!  Now Africans in the area can come to receive medical treatment at this new facility.  It can accommodate 300 patients with new equipment and supplies.  And collaboration with doctors from America and England ensures that patients receive the best treatment possible.  
Dikembe persisted in his difficulties, overcoming first a disdain for his sport, a language barrier and his advanced age to become a basketball great.  Then he overcame several setbacks in his quest to provide his hometown in Africa with a new medical facility.  He could have given up at any point, but persisted until his dreams for himself and his country came true.
Often our best battles are won with patience and determination.  Does it matter if it take a long time to reach our goals?  No.  As long as we persist until we do reach them.

 “Dikembe Mutombo”  Wikipedia  Web.  5 Dec 2011.
“Dikembe Mutombo—Develops Basketball Skills.” Sports J  Web.  5 Dec 2011.
“Dikembe Mutombo—Growing Up in Africa.”  Sports J  Web.  5 Dec 2011.

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